Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Been a while...

I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to update! My computer died and it has therefore been damned near impossible to get access to anyone's computer long enough to update my blog! I have so much to tell you about...from Lepokole to the Okavango Delta...but for now let me update you on what has been going on recently with a couple blog posts that i've had saved up:
(I'll update as much as I can i promise from here on out)...
Birthday Shenanegans...

The day started like any other, with the puppy crying at 5am and the pigeons outside my window cooing to the sunrise.  I peeled open my curtains and was excited to find that it was actually cloudy outside, and a wind was howling through the cracks in my window.  I was supposed to go into the clinic at the usual time, 7:30 am, but decided, “Today is my birthday, and I can be tardy if I want to…” I pulled the covers over my ears and clicked on a movie.  Honestly, I was dreading this day.  My first birthday in Botswana, thousands of miles from home, and I had no real plans for the day either (with hopes to celebrate the following week). 

Around 8 o’clock, I decided I had spent enough time in my dark bedroom and got up, got dressed, and set off to the clinic with Cleo in hand.  It truly was just like any other day; everyone greeted me with energetic smiles and inquired about my new puppy. I walked into the clinic and started working on tedious tasks.  At around 10, the ambulance came and I hitched a ride to my shopping village of Bobonong.  I walked from the hospital to Leia’s house and sat with her and discussed our plans for the next few event-packed weeks.  I then walked into town, bought a few things, and excitedly got a free ride back to Gobojango. I unloaded my things at my house and took off for the Junior Secondary School.

Once I arrived, 15 minutes late and dripping in sweat, the students approached me saying that the teacher was not around but that they wanted to show me something. They took all of my things, told me to close my eyes, and lead me by the hand into a classroom.  When I opened my eyes, there was a table covered in flower petals and rows of students lined up singing me happy birthday.  After they finished the birthday song, they asked me to sit and then took turns telling me why they are grateful for me in their lives.

“Your involvement with the JAB club has been monumental.  I don’t know what other word to call you but our hero; you have inspired us and influenced us to be positive role models and for that, we thank you!”

“What can I say, Kitso? We love you big time!”

“Thank you so much for being a part of our lives, we are so fortunate to have you here, and we hope you enjoy your birthday”…

It was so sincere, I literally started tearing up.  Then, when the students asked me to speak, I was at a loss for words, “thank you so much for this beautiful surprise. I am so far away from home and…” that was all I could say before my voice cracked and the words choked out of my mouth. Everyone applauded as if I had given a legendary speech and then asked to take turns taking pictures with me. From that point on, the entire day took a turn for the better.

As I walked home with a handful of students, TJ Castro called me from the US to send me birthday wishes.  Then my mom called and surprised me even further by offering to buy my ticket home in August.

((Not only did her and my dad offer to buy my ticket home for Tasha’s wedding, but they also gave me an opportunity to use my hard earned savings for travel while in Southern Africa.  I’m currently beginning to plan a trip to Mozambique to celebrate!))

Anyway, as I walked from the general store to my house, I stopped by one of the primary school teacher’s home where a handful of the teachers were relaxing.  After they discovered it was my birthday, they proceeded to begin dancing and singing for me.  I was surprised to find that one of them has been trained in classical opera, and the others are tremendously musically talented! We decided to create a band and they drove me home.

Though I didn’t particularly celebrate my birthday on the actual day, I was amusingly surprised at how much the people around me cared!

“Mpha thupa” (Give me the stick)

One thing that has severely caught me off guard in this country has been the widely accepted notion of corporal punishment. The legal beating of individuals in public by elected officials…

I was first introduced to corporal punishment during my work with the students in the primary school. Though the majority of the teachers promised me that they do not punish their students with physical force, I was flabbergasted one day to walk past a classroom and find one of the 11 year old boys bent over and getting lashed on the buttocks by a teacher. I was honestly stunned; I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to yell at the man to stop hurting the little boy, but I knew it wasn’t my place. I spent days mulling it over and finally decided to ask my neighbors their thoughts on it.

Jonjo, an astute 12 year old boy, described it to me as so: “I know I’m doing well if the teacher beats me.  At least that way, I know he cares about my education.  If I’m being beaten, I know it’s because I can do better.  It teaches us to become more responsible children.”

Perhaps it’s because I have been raised in a society where this has been illegal for years, but I still cannot wrap my head around how parents can allow their children to be beaten by their teachers.   Punishment should be doled out at home, in my opinion; I do not think that teachers should have the authority to physically hurt a child. 

When I was asked by a friend of mine who is a teacher at the primary school how teachers punish children in the US, I was surprised to find his lack of trust in the system. “Kitso, I think physical punishment is much more effective and kinder than the mental punishment you American children go through.  We do not have to feel humiliated or miss out on any events because we’ve been bad. We accept our lashings and move on.” When I tried to explain that detention and suspension were not necessarily means of mental punishment, he persisted to say, “Those disciplinary actions make a man soft.” 

It’s fascinating working within the parameters of this society where students are honestly afraid of their teachers.  I was working in the computer lab at the junior secondary school one afternoon when a slew of children came in and started messing around the lab.  I wasn’t sure if this was warranted until a student handed me a long stick with tape wrapped around the end of it.  When I took it, a bit confused at what it was, the students fled in fear that I would beat them.

This stick is called the “thupa” (pronounced too-pah) and apparently is what the teachers use to get their message across.

Now that I’m more aware of it, I’m realizing that the majority of these teachers who have all promised me that they don’t beat their students walk around with a thupa.

Furthermore, I have been taken aback at the punishment methods used at the local court, or kgotla.  Before I left on holiday break, a case was being heard by the elders at the court.   When I left work, I learned that the suspect was found guilty, and his punishment was 10 lashes by a court-appointed official.  These are grown adults that we’re talking about.  Individuals within the society that sell and buy goods, raise children, and put ties on to go to work.  These adults were warranting physical lashings of a criminal. I learned that once this individual received his lashings, the charges were dropped and everyone moved on with their lives.

It seems so primordial to me that this punishment is accepted in such modern society. It almost doesn’t make sense in my mind that I can sit in a computer room, just a few kilometers from where a grown man is being spanked with a log for committing a crime. More and more, what I know to be “globalization” and “growth” is being questioned by living in such a rural village.  There is no way that Botswana can mimic the models of modernization set forth by countries of the Western World because its past is so unique.  The tribal conflicts and traditions are so invested in its policies that to facsimile the United States’ example, for instance, would be obsolete and cause more problems.

I’ve noticed this to be the case on multiple occasions.  Botswana is finding itself in a very inimitable position.  It is a fairly new country, only gained independence in 1966, and yet it has found itself splashed in a rapidly developing global environment. The Gobojango Health Post, for example, has just been declared an Infectious Disease Control Center (which means that it can dispense Anti-RetroViral drugs to its HIV positive patients).  In doing so, the Ministry of Health has dumped an increasing amount of technology our way.  Unfortunately, what isn’t understood is that although we have 4 computers and a new patient operating system, many of the people who work here don’t even know how to turn on a computer. As a result, there are thousands of dollars and people’s hard work going to waste simply because step one was bypassed.

Now that I’ve travelled on an entirely new tangent, let me finish this post by declaring that there are days where I’d really like to take a thupa to the higher ups in government and slap them into the reality in which we are living.  The limitations set forth by the traditional and modern conflict cause a whole new set of problems that people of Botswana are still learning to navigate (myself included!)

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